Wednesday is judgment day for Patricia Etteh, the first woman speaker of Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives. An ad-hoc committee has been investigating allegations that the speaker flouted House rules when she awarded contracts worth 628 million naira or $5 million to renovate her official residence and that of her deputy. That committee will make its report Wednesday.
Speaker Etteh has said she followed due process in awarding the contracts. But some opposition members of parliament see the probe as part of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s promise of zero tolerance for corruption, and they want the speaker to step down.
Kabir Mato is head of the political science department at the University of Abuja. He told VOA that the committee’s report is likely to take the middle road.
“The committee, in my humble opinion, finds itself within a mix of politics on one hand and bureaucracy on the other hand. So I will not be surprised that the committee might come up with recommendations that are not going to be very severe on either side of the divide. That not withstanding, we could also perhaps see something entirely different from what we are expecting. So today it’s going very delicate as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. But I don’t expect it’s going to be either hash,” he said.
Some opposition members of parliament see the probe as part of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s promise of zero tolerance for corruption, and they want the speaker to step down.
But Mato said the opposition and Nigerians in general should be willing to accept the findings of a properly constituted panel such as the ad-hoc committee investigating the speaker.
“The problem, I think, has to do with the fact that Nigeria is emerging from a state of military dictatorship and civilian arbitrariness to an era where the rule of law and procedures are expected to be followed. Citizens are not necessarily crucified unless they are tried and given fair hearing to defend themselves on any particular issue, especially on allegations regarding corruption that is leveled against them. So I think Nigerians must be able to accept the collective view of properly constituted panels such as this,” Mato said.
Nigeria’s National Assembly has in recent times been rocked by corruption scandals. Senate President Adolphus Wabara was forced to resign in 2005 following allegations he received a bribe from a former minister of education.
Mato blamed the previous government of President Olusegun Obasanjo for this perceived image of corruption in the leadership of the National Assembly.
“The problem is that the government before this (Yar’Adua government) was elaborately involved in the determination of who became the senate president or speaker in the House of Representatives. What we have now is a president who says he would rather allow the National Assembly to exercise its fundamental freedom, maintaining its integrity and political neutrality in order to have the correct practice of the checks and balances and suppression of power as expected of our presidential democracy,” Mato said.
He also said part of this perceived image of corruption in the leadership of the National Assembly might result from the enormous power that is wielded by the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, on their individual rights, are the chief executives of their respective parliaments, the upper chamber and the lower chamber. The Senate President is the chief executive of the senate; he is the final approving authority in terms of finances that have to do with the senate. The same thing applies to the House of Representatives. The Speaker is the final approving authority on any matter relating to the House of Representatives. So the Speaker and the Senate President in the Nigeria democratic dispensation have tremendous economic and political power that they wield in the running of their respective chambers,” he said.
Mato said the allegation of corruption against Speaker Patricia Etteh has nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman. He said the Speaker is a victim of politicking.